60, Visible Minority, MBA, Unemployed

Yesterday I sat down with a man for an hour and half and we talked about his employment goals and employment barriers. Now he wasn’t completely unknown to me as we’d just spent the previous week together as he took part in a class I was co-facilitating pertaining to knowing yourself and finding a job / career that would match.

So who is this man? Well as the title suggests, he’s a 60 year-old, originally from India where he obtained his Masters degree. He’s been in Canada now for 20 years and is a Canadian citizen. He’s worked professionally in Sales and Marketing, once starting on the front line in a company and rising all the way up to be the company CEO. He’s in good health, speaks multiple languages, has a good sense of humour, excellent communication skills – and oh yes he’s unemployed and on social assistance.

Last year he and his wife moved from the west side of Canada to Oshawa, Ontario to move in with their adult son. This way the son gets some rental income, helps out his parents, and they in turn have a stable home and the extended family support they want. The difficulty is of course that they begin anew employment-wise.

When we talked of barriers I threw the prejudice against age and race issues right out there instead of dancing around them to maximize the value of our time together. Yes, both are possibilities he conceded and he has felt dismissed too abruptly for jobs he is well qualified on paper to do. In a move that is sure to offend some but be completely understandable by others, I asked if he’d ever considered submitting some resumes using a pseudonym or nickname. Both his first and last name you see might suggest he is a person from a visible minority with origins offshore.

Yes, sadly, there are still some employers who are prejudiced against people who don’t look like them or their other employees, and worry about everything from a lack of Canadian experience to traditionally spicy foods in the microwave. It’s true. They don’t want to risk alienating their customers or some other such silliness and so they blindly dismiss any application from a person not like themselves.

Then again, it might be his age with all that grey hair (same as my hair colour). At 60, the sands of time are falling much too quickly and employers might look him up and down and see someone slowing down, rising health issues, afternoon naps, inflexibility, out-of-date training and experience. Very real possibilities.

“But can they really do that?” he asked me. “I mean can they not hire me just because I am old or because of my name?” Well honestly discrimination is against the law on the basis of age, gender, sex, religion, ethnicity etc. However, people being people, some poor employers do discriminate they just don’t always openly share their prejudices with applicants.

“If I used a nickname would that not make me seem fraudulent?” This is a great question and one that people will argue for or against with compelling points. The object of a resume and cover letter however are to do but a single thing; get an interview. Once the interview is obtained, it falls to the applicant to sell themselves in the interview, marketing their strengths and values as benefits to be desired leading to being hired. Good thing he’s in Sales and Marketing.

Now by his figures, since January, he has applied for 1,000 jobs. (Is that even possible over 4 1/2 months?) As hardly any interviews have transpired, it would be interesting for ‘Peter Sharpe’ to send out a few resumes and see if he gets any increase in interviews. And supposing that with his new nickname he did land more interviews, he’d have eliminated one barrier to employment.

But what about when they see him and the colour of his skin and the lines on his face – the colour of his hair? He’s in Sales and Marketing remember. So my advice to him was to immediately hijack the interview at the first sign of being dismissed if that happens. After all, if he feels a job is lost that he is qualified for, there is nothing to lose but something to gain. So it could go like this…

“I’m not sure you’re what we’re looking for after all Peter. We’ll let you know though if we can use you.”

“That’s a good strategy of yours, I like it! Dismissing me early to see whether or not I get up and leave or persevere and make my best sales pitch. You are playing the customer who doesn’t want your product. Let me tell you then that I am internationally trained and have full fluency in 4 languages. That means your multicultural clients will readily identify with me. I have worked both on the front-line, at the top and everywhere in between so I can speak with customers at their level. I’m energetic, in good health, have a great sense of humour and meet all your requirements. I even adopted a nickname to increase my chances of obtaining this interview by improving the attraction of the product – me; and you bought it. I am fortunate to have met an employer who understands Sales and Marketing and can detect value when it sits across from them.”

And wouldn’t it be ironic if Bob the interview was sitting on his wallet containing his birth certificate identifying him as William?





5 thoughts on “60, Visible Minority, MBA, Unemployed

  1. Kelly, So on target and excellent advice to this man. I have a friend who after retiring as a Navy, Commander found he had to change his resume to a functional style and take out any reference to the military including his Annapolis Graduation – in order to attract an employer. That employer during the interview stated that from what my friend had described in his qualifications, perhaps he had been in the military? To which my friend replied, “Yes I was, But I wanted you to see what I could do, not necessarily where I’d been”. He got the job.


  2. This all very interesting. You gave good advice to this man. It’s really pathetic and a sad comment on our society and the way things are going that people have to do this to get a job, but unfortunately, that is the reality. There will be some employers, of course, who will view this as being dishonest but that is a risk that must be taken if his resume is not to be automatically put in File 13.


  3. Kelly,

    Nice to see another golden nugget of yours for us to share and benefit from. Here are some points in your message on the candidate that pose as opportunities prior to even thinking of changing a name to get an interview.

    With all politeness and humility and respect for this sincere candidate:

    A – He has applied for 100 jobs. Whoa. whoa…I would stop him at 10 and ask to find what he was doing wrong?

    B – Jobs offered in these times are based on one’s network and not necessarily the traditional jobs online.

    C – If he does feel he is rejected by name (although I would suspect that all Canadians are likewise, which is not quite the case at least in my brief experience with candidates in that region), he is probably ready to do his own gig and make a better income than a traditional job route.

    D – There are so many youngsters starting early and don’t look for traditional jobs and make it in several ways. Why are people (especially the person who has a high track record in sales/marketing) are suddenly blaming the employers for discrimination based on age or appearance?

    Not that I am being insensitive as this is a serious matter concerning the livelihood of people trying to make through their day, month and year in difficult times. Time to create one’s own dust instead of taking someone else’.

    Hope you can share your thoughts on this with me and throw some light into areas that I may have missed.


    1. Thanks for you perspective Shree. As for the 1000 job applications, I entirely agree with you that the number is excessive. By the time we came into each others company, this is the number he threw my way. I believe he’s not targeting those resumes and was sending inferior, standardized resumes.
      To your point about networking, we are in complete agreement. There he is facing a barrier as having relocated from the other side of Canada in the last six months, his local network is underdeveloped and his local social supports weak.
      We did discuss self-employment but he is not cut out at 60 to run his own business, build up his clientele and set aside funds for retirement. Maybe years ago, but he’s got too many bills to pay to go it solo. I think he’ll be interested in your initial reply and for the moment he’s got hope for change based on our conversation. Thanks again Shree.


  4. Tell it like it is: ALL employers discriminate on race and age to some extent. And in North America, it is best to be white and young when it comes to getting the better jobs – regardless of experience. In the US, the HR function in most private corporations is dominated by white females under 40 aka Caucasian gatekeepers. If you are not one of them, it doesn’t bode well for you. In fact, if you are the complete opposite of them, they inevitably look at you like a Big foot who wondered in from the wilderness with some insane notion that you can actually do one of their highly compensated white collar jobs.

    The harsh, unfiltered reality is that changing your resume name or removing a school that is known for educating minorities is simply not enough. I have heard white hiring managers reject candidates sight unseen after a phone interview because they “sounded too ethnic”. I have used all the techniques to hide my age (leaving out the year that you finished college and only going back 10 years in work history) and race – and it has gotten me interviews for jobs that I mastered 20 years ago paying me half of what I made at my last job (from which I was railroaded by AARP). All that doesn’t matter when you stand up an shake hands and you can see the expression of the interviewer unknowingly change with astonishment. They either expect someone white, someone younger – or both. You are immediately at the most marked disadvantage of any other candidate as you have to overcome who you are – or perceived to be – before you even sit don in the person’s office. Some I could tell didn’t want to talk to me the minute they saw me – and I damn near told them the feeling was mutual.But I took my time to put on my suit and drive down there and pay for parking and research their company and prepare for the interview so I never let them off the hook that easy. My time is worth something even if I am unemployed for it is time that I could be using on my quest for the REAL opportunity that I deserve and will rightfully get instead of filling their equal employment opportunity quotes for minority applicants. I was good enough to call in when they thought I was white, now they are going talk to me whether they want to or not. At this point, they owe me that much.


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